Saturday, September 26, 2009

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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

School District Boundaries Update

Update on last night's back-to-back special Santa Clara Unified School District board meeting and County Office of Education, Committee on School District Organization public hearing:

The skinny: By a unanimous vote, SCUSD board of trustees gave a qualified nod to Santa Clara south-of-Pruneridge residents' request to move the neighborhood from the Campbell Union school districts to Santa Clara Unified. The question now is in the hands of the county Committee on School District Organization, which then heard from neighborhood residents.

SCUSD's qualifier is that, because Santa Clara schools are already over capacity, the district needs time to find additional space for roughly 150 new students – almost all of them currently in elementary and middle school. However, new residential development in city – both planned and currently under construction – means that the district will need additional capacity in any case.

The county Committee on School District Organization was primarily there to listen – which they did very generously, allowing speakers to make their points even when they ran over the two-minute limit.

The Campbell districts' case is that they will be hard hit financially without the tax revenue from that neighborhood. In K-8 grades (Campbell Union school district), Santa Clara residents represent 2 percent of the students and 4 percent of the revenue. In 9-12 grades (Campbell Union high school district) Santa Clara residents, 15 to 20 students, represent $600,000 in district revenue.

Campbell's status as "basic aid" funded district hangs by a thread at 0.1 percent over the cutoff. The proposed change would return the district to "revenue limit" status. (Basic aid districts are less vulnerable to state funding cuts and benefit more in a rising real estate market. However, they are more vulnerable to declines in local tax revenue).

Despite these favorable imbalances in cost and revenue – a "goldmine" is how county School District Organization Committee member Phil Nelsen characterized it – the Campbell districts closed all three schools near Santa Clara, sending students to Lynhaven elementary, Monroe middle and Del Mar high schools. Residents also pointed out that inter-district transfers – suggested as an alternative by district administrators – are approved about as often as the Bay Area has a blizzard.

The unedited "feed:"

SCUSD special board meeting:

Facilities are the critical factor. Schools overcrowded already, some are already over-capacity. "We're portable-ed to death," was how Trustee Pat Flot put it.

"Regardless of financing, it's a foregone conclusion that we're going to have to open new schools so we might have to do this sooner," said Trustee Albert Gonzalez. "As I see it the financials are positive." The change would increase SCUSD's per-student funding by about $170.

"The numbers indicate that it would be favorable to us," said Trustee Andy Ratermann. "The [construction bond] debt we have out there is new, mostly amortized, so I don't see an issue there. I think if we get enough time we can do this, but if we don't it's going to be a great strain. All of that about [Campbell districts' assertion that petitioners' objective is] improving property values, I don't find at all compelling."

After voting against the staff recommendation to deny the request, Trustee Andy Ratermann put forward a motion that the SCUSD board was "favorable" to the change, "but concerned about timing and ability to provide adequate facilities." That passed unanimously.

SCC Committee on School District Organization hearing:

"I've lived there [Santa Clara] 44 years," said resident Richard Harrison. "We thought we were in SCUSD [when they bought their house]. But didn't matter because [CUSD's] Parkway elementary school was there [on the corner of Saratoga and San Tomas]. Then they closed that and moved everything to Lynhaven. Then they closed Cypress middle school [Cypress and Stevens Creek] and moved everyone to Monroe. Then they closed Blackford high school [Moorpark and Boynton] and moved everyone to Del Mar.

"We have been disenfranchised as far as academic facilities," he concluded. "This school [Santa Clara HS] is closer than for kids than Prospect."

Santa Clara native Ann Leno pointed out that a growing number of young Santa Clarans "have made a conscious decision to stay in Santa Clara."

In today's world where two incomes are necessity, not a choice, having a school within walking or public transit distance versus a school that you have to ride a school bus to, spells "huge differences in students' ability to participate meaningfully in after-school programs. Most of us work in the opposite direction," she said. "We take our kids to school and then have to head the opposite direction to 101, Central Expressway."

CUSD Superintendent Joanna VanderMolen and Deputy Superintendent Jim Crawford took a different view in representing CUSD board's vote against the transfer.

VanderMolen laid out the financials. This year Campbell became a "basic aid" funded district, topping the cutoff point by 0.1 percent. "The district receives 4 percent funding and gets 2 percent of students [from Santa Clara] so the neighborhood is providing a 2 percent subsidy from these students. Plus our district has charter schools. So this would mean $1.5 million in cuts. It would just wipe the district out at this point."

The funding advantages of a basic aid district enable a better education for students, VanderMolen said. "I'm here really being the advocate for the 7300 kids who want that better education If we lose these properties we will step back out of basic aid just as we stepped in. the impact of losing these children at this point in time and going back to revenue limit would cause further cuts."

Campbell Union High School district would take a "$600,000 hit for this transfer of property out," said Pat Gaffney, deputy Superintendent CSUHSD. "Proximity is a big issue here. I went to Google and took the distance between Mike O'Halloran's [lead petitioner on the request to the county OOE] house and Del Mar. The distance is shorter to Del Mar than to this high school.

"There's so much technology these days we can take the opportunity to use communications technology to [reduce the impact of distance]," Gaffney continued. "I wasn't able to find anything on SCUSD's site on any of these programs [referred to by residents]. We can certainly make folks aware of the opportunities in Santa Clara."

"Forty minutes ago SCUSD board voted not to deny this request," said SCUSD Superintendent Steve Stavis. "The question of facilities currently remains an issue. [The change would represent] $170 per student more than we're currently getting. The biggest impact would be on facilities and reopening a school to the cost of about $11 million."

"As educators we have to put children's best interest at the highest priority," said former Montague teacher Joann [name]. "As my sister said, "adults need to get out of the way and do what's best for kids."

"Why do we – 131 students – have to bear the brunt of this school budget crisis?" said Megan [name].

Several speakers spoke about requesting inter-district transfers and being told that no transfers were given.

"When I ask how do our kids get to school and they looked at me and said "I don't know" and they weren't going to help me find a safe way to get to school," said Santa Clara resident Barbara Drummer.

"I'm really concerned with the sense of community and being part of a community," said Santa Clara resident Joseph Goschy. "It's really about the kids and what's right for the kids, what's right for the community and our future. There's a lot of spreadsheets and discussion. If we had one kid with a safety issue, I think we'd be rethinking all this. We understand that it's not an overnight change. We're open to some long-term cooperation to work together to resolve this."

"I'm a 45 year resident of Santa Clara," said Kay Harrison. "I'd like to see the little kids growing up in our neighborhood be part of Santa Clara schools."

"I sympathize with the petition," said county School District Organization committee member Nick Gervase. "There's no question there's more identity with Santa Clara. However, we have to speak to some reality. We are faced with a requirement on how and what to vote on. There are nine criteria you have to meet. We have to vote on all those criteria."

Of those nine criteria, three are potential showstoppers, Gervase said:

  • No significant disruption of educational programs: Campbell is going to say that their educational program is going to be affected
  • No significant additional costs for housing students
  • No substantial negative effect on fiscal status of district

Committee representative Phil Nielsen concluded the meeting with this observation. "This area is paying a lot on a per-student basis – more than their fair share. You're [Campbell] basic aid by 0.1%. It seems to me you've lost it already. You get 4 percent of funding for 2 percent of students – it's a goldmine. In high school you're getting $600,000 for 15 students – another goldmine."

"For Campbell it's all about the money," one person leaving the meeting was heard to remark. "I've been in budgeting and layoff meetings in corporate American that were more humane."

For more information about the School District Organization committee, visit the committee's website or contact Suzanne Carrig in the Center for Educational Planning at (408) 453-6869 or

Friday, September 18, 2009

SCUSD Staff Opposes Proposed Boundary Change to Include City Residents South of Pruneridge

Note: In the interests of full disclosure, I live in the south-of-Pruneridge neighborhood. I have no school-age children.

On Sept. 22, the Santa Clara Unified School District Board is holding a special meeting to take up a request by Santa Clara residents in the south of Pruneridge neighborhood to move from the CUSD and CUHSD districts to SCUSD. The question was tabled at the Sept. 10 meeting based on the fact that although SCUSD staff opposed the change on financial grounds, they couldn't provide any analysis to support this.

In August, a petition signed by 276 voters -- out of 593 tax parcels -- in the neighborhood was submitted to the Santa Clara County Office of Education, which ultimately decides on the request. The proposed change would potentially add about 150 students to SCUSD.

Campbell Union School District has gone on record opposing the change, claiming that proponents of the change were motivated by residents' desire to increase their property values. (Someone in the audience observed that if this were the case, the neighborhood would be trying to join Cupertino school district.)

Santa Clara Unified staff opposes the change on the grounds that it would hurt SCUSD financially and, because there are no schools in the parcel, would over-tax the district's facilities. "We're in trouble facilities-wise in the near future," said SCUSD Business Administrator Roger Barnes. "It would be a significant impact on facilities. The amount per student we'd get from this area is less than we're getting from other property."

But despite this assertion SCUSD did not, in fact, have information about the area's property values to back this up. "You're really not sure what that would bring us in terms of educating students," observed Board Trustee Ina Bendis. "So it could be that, as we're sitting here now, we could be passing up a windfall. We don't know."

If the parcel joined the SCUSD, property owners would be accountable for general obligation bonds and the proposed parcel tax. "What would the average debt per parcel that this section of town would assume if they come onboard?" asked trustee Andy Ratermann. "Who knows? They may end up paying for the majority of it."

Further, Bendis said, "The proponents of this [change] point out 140 students. Fairfield [Gallery on Central Park], the impact was 130 to 180 students and we didn't kvetch about it. I would like to know why we're kvetching about this – we don't even know if that's going to hurt us."

"We have negotiated with the developer [Fairfield] for $6,000 in developer fees per student," replied Barnes.

"So it sounds like everything would be equalized if they were willing to pay us $6,000 per unit," Bendis shot back. "The problem is the developer fees for those units went to someone else and we can't get it. So we're not talking apples to apples."

Noting that he'd never heard from this neighborhood before, trustee Don Bordenave observed that, "Those houses are 40 years old. The facilities issue is a big issue and the reason we should turn it down."

Other unknowns come into play as well. "If we did end up with that parcel, would it affect relations [with the teachers union]?" asked Trustee Pat Flot. "Basically we have to make this decision without information."

Other board members saw the question as going beyond dollars and cents.

"This is not a territorial issue," said trustee Andy Ratermann. "I don't see it that way. I don't see it as an issue about money. I don't buy the argument that it's going to be a big loss to Campbell and it's going to be a big cost to us. It's a small area with a high amount of retail on Stevens Creek and the property values are fairly high.

"[The issue is,] What is the effect on the kids?" he continued. [Students in the CUSD] go a long way to school, it's somewhat disenfranchising for those kids, they feel like they're not part of Santa Clara. What I don't want to see us doing is making a very short-term decision. What is the right thing long term for the kids? And if it turns out that the right thing to have them in our district, then that's what we should do and figure out the details."

Trustee Albert Gonzalez reminded the Board that the students in questions were Santa Clara residents. "A month ago we were talking about Adult Ed," which serves people outside the City of Santa Clara. "These people are in Santa Clara. They want to be part of Santa Clara. I can't see how we could vote against allowing them in the district."

Because the Board's vote on the question isn't binding on the county Office of Education, trustee Jim Canova suggested avoiding needless contention. Suppose, he said, the county approves the change. Being on record opposing it "is an awkward way to go forward. It seems like the neutral option is something worthy of consideration."

While hours of deliberation are needed to consider whether Santa Clara's residential neighborhoods should be part of the SCUSD, it takes no time, it seems, to decide whether areas without residents should be annexed. The next item on the September 20 agenda was an agreement with San Jose to transfer a parcel of North 1st Street in Alviso into the SCUSD.

"There are no residences here and absolutely no chance of residences here. [But] we would get the property tax from those buildings," explained Business Administrator Barnes. The Board voted unanimously to approve the change.

The SCUSD Board is holding a special meeting on this question, on Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2009 at 4:30 p.m. at the Santa Clara High School Theater, 3000 Benton St. For more information visit or call (408) 423-2000.

California School District Boundaries – Legacies of a Land Grab Era

Today's Santa Clara County school district maps are byproducts of the Bay Area's post-WWII municipal land grab era – a time when population was growing quickly and cities were swallowing up smaller towns and unincorporated areas. As San Jose annexed property, those rural districts didn't want to be part of San Jose Unified.

Leaving annexed property in the original school districts sweetened the deal and reduced potential opposition according to former City Council Member Frank Barcells, because districts retained their tax base.

"State law was changed to say that school districts didn't have to be contiguous," says County Supervisor Ken Yeager. "There was no connection where the cities grew and where the school districts were."

While the much of the south-of-Pruneridge neighborhood is within a short walk of Westwood elementary school, there are no CUSD or CUHSD schools within walking distance or on a safe biking route. Students must travel across Kiely, Stevens Creek and Highway 280 – and, for some high school students, Winchester, Bascom and Highway 880 as well.

In addition, Santa Clara students in Campbell schools won't benefit from tax revenues generated by the proposed 49ers stadium.

Carolyn Schuk can be reached at

Friday, July 17, 2009

Conspiracy Con9 - The Live Blog: Decent Into the Maelstrom

Dateline: Santa Clara, CA
June 6, 2009 7:53:39 P.M

"It took less than a single day to change these hairs from a jetty black to white, to weaken my limbs, and to unstring my nerves, so that I tremble at the least exertion, and am frightened at a shadow." – Edgar Allen Poe, "Descent Into the Maelstrom."

The last speaker on the Conspiracy Con 9 agenda is Anthony Hilder, cinematic auteur of conspiracism whose oeuvre includes the shock-u-mentaries "Reichstag '95: An American Holocaust," "IllumiNazi 911," and "Alien 51: Amerika's SSecret" (you have to imagine the Nazi SS runes here), a comprehensive survey of "Alien Implants, Human Cloning, Missing Children, Anti-Gravity Spacecraft, Reverse Engineering, Operation Paperclip, Biological Weapons, Extraterrestrials, IllumiNazi Agenda, New World Order."

Despite my two-day immersion in all things conspiranoid, nothing prepares me for Hilder. In an interesting example of how sensitive we homo sapiens are to the power of suggestion and "groupthink," I observe that: First, Hilder's initials are 'A.H.' Second, by switching the position of the 'd' in Hilder's name, and replacing 'd' with 't,' you come up with:


My thought processes now match those of everyone else in the room. And without an RF transmitter planted in my brain. Given Hilder's affection for Nazi imagery, it's not a big leap to entertain the idea of Anthony Hilder as a reincarnation of Adolph Hitler. The only differences are that Hitler liked military uniforms and did not, as far as I know, believe in extraterrestrial Lizard People – he probably would have, had he thought of it.

Hitler's -- excuse me, Hilder's -- Free World Film Works website tells visitors that, "Anthony J. Hilder's ever-present goal is to insight a Revelation to avoid a Revolution & form an Alliance of Independent Tribal, Linguistic, Religious, Political, Ethnic and Racial Nation States in opposition to the United Nations. Hilder is fully cognizant that the world must have an option to the U.N. and the chaos & killing that is being deliberately directed by this Brotherhood of Death to bring about our control."

In the next hour Hilder elaborates on his idée fixe: reptiles……the reptilian attack that's going on Mars. The god of Christianity is the God of the evil Reptilians. This is just a lead-in, however, to Hilder's second leitmotif, the big lizard himself, the Templars' apocryphal idol Baphomet, a.k.a. Lucifer. 

There are tens of thousands of Luciferian sacrifices going on in the world today…. Uncle Sam is the satanic goat of bathema. When you fold a $20 bill you'll see the north tower on one side and the south tower on the second side. And on the bottom you'll see s-t-n. Satan… I realized communism, from its inception, has been financed in the U.S. Marx was a Satanist.

And who are these "luciferian" reptiles' terrestrial agents? "Bankers" of course.

These banking bastards are bloodsuckers. Who the hell wants to save General Motors. Let them crash. We must reach out with a giant stake and stick it in their heart, and show no mercy. Hilder emphasizes those last three words.

Franken-Fed – the monster among us. In this picture we see pictures of the Georgia Guidestone, America's Stonehenge. And their suggestion is the reduction of the world's population to one and a half billion. What happens to the other five and a half billion of us? Hilder pauses for effect here, before continuing: That's why they have plastic coffins in Georgia.

If you haven't guessed already, Hilder is on course for that irresistible geography of the dangerous and deranged: Anti-Semitism:

Zionism runs the U.S. congress…One family, the Rothschilds, that owns all the money and calls all the shots, and that family has Reptilian roots. Israel is just a Rothschild front organization.

Hilder turns up the volume, stoking his own adrenalin-fueled rage.

We can end the problem. There is no problem except for those who believe a problem exists. There is no problem. The eye. Is this thing a Luciferian conspiracy? And Uncle Sam is bringing over the mother of Pat Tillman. Whose eyes had just opened…and somebody said, Kill that guy.

I don't want to see public education. I want to see public education destroyed. Why would you give your money to them for the second plank of the Communist Manifesto? Margaret Sanger, she was a close advisor of Adolph Hitler. They created a genetically created disease. AIDS. That's why babies are starving in the first place, because they modified the weather. I've lived in Africa and I've seen what liberation theology has brought….men castrated and their wives forced to eat their testicles...

Take a look at your church. The National Council of Churches. When you put your money into their plates and they take and buy guns for the terrorists. I'm talking about the guys who go into the towns and kill the children and rape the women…"

Instead of testicle-eating, however, I'm thinking of Richard Hofstadter's observation about the sexual preoccupations of conspiracists: "…the sexual freedom often attributed to the enemy, his lack of moral inhibition, his possession of especially effective techniques for fulfilling his desires, give exponents of the paranoid style an opportunity to project and express un-acknowledgeable aspects of their own psychological concerns…Very often the fantasies of true believers reveal strong sadomasochistic outlets, vividly expressed, for example, in the delight of anti-Masons with the cruelty of Masonic punishments."

Hilder winds up to the climax of his rhetorical masturbation with a call for action:

We are united. And I say yes, get your guns, and yes, get your food, and I say get out of…the dollar…The birth certificates your children have say on the bottom: Department of Commerce. That's because they own them.

But don't rush to get out of Dodge just yet. Before we put on our traveling shoes, Hilder wants to help us get out of the dollar, so to speak, by unloading that worthless fiat money on him: We've got to get "$10 a Barrel" finished. Maybe some of you will help us help you. 

Indeed. As the faithful take out their checkbooks, I bolt. Outside, as my head clears in the chilly evening, I think of the closing exchange of "Alice in Wonderland:"

"'Wake up, Alice dear!' said her sister; 'Why, what a long sleep you've had!'

"'Oh, I've had such a curious dream!' said Alice..."

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The night of the whining

Before the last election, I posted "An Election Who's Who" where I gave opinions about the candidates for City Council. Now that we're 8 months down the road, let's revisit some of those recommendations and see how people are acting. This is based entirely on public appearances. I didn't interview anyone for this.

At the last two City Council meetings, several people have spoken - including Council Members. But what's interesting is hearing the people that spoke that were once candidates. It's amazing how when people aren't on the campaign trail, their true colors come out.

Let's take a look:

Karen Hardy: Either Karen's been incredibly quiet, or I don't watch the Council Meetings at the right time.

Brian Lowery: Brian has spoken at Council meetings and in other venues and is always willing to talk. Brian is staying true to the issues on which he ran his campaign and seems to always deliver a consistent message.

Mario Bouza: Mario is similar to Hardy - he's either been incredibly quiet or appears at Council meetings at the right time.

Mary Emerson: Mary's been at several City Council meetings and has consistently spoken out against the stadium.

Chuck Blair: Like Hardy and Bouza, Chuck seems to have disappeared from the radar.

Ciaran O'Donnell: In that pre-election post, I labeled O'Donnell as a chameleon candidate - someone willing to say what he needs to say to please all the voters. At Tuesday's City Council meeting, O'Donnell showed his true colors. During the public presentation, O'Donnell spoke and insulted the Mayor and her family. The insult doesn't bother me, although it definitely rankled the Mayor. What bothered me was how O'Donnell would stoop to such a puerile level.

Whether or not you like the Mayor isn't the point. The point is how O'Donnell acted. As a former and possibly future City Council candidate, I'd sort of expect a bit better (okay, a lot better) than what he gave. If he had won and the rest of the Council voted took a position opposite his, one wonders how he'd respond - spitballs at 20-yards?

Friday, June 26, 2009

Iran solidarity vigil 6/26/09

Vigil in solidarity with the suffering people of Iran, remembering Neda and the countless others who have sacrificed for a better future for their children, their nation, and the world.

FRIDAY, June 26, 2009 7:30 PM
Stevens Creek and Winchester (Santana Row)

This is a peaceful vigil and memorial. Organizers have requested no flags. More here.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

So little time, so many lunatics

We're talking about 900 Kiely, the latest development tempest in the Santa Clara teapot. Every time we have a development project, it's the same. The usual suspects, headlined by our very own Village Lunatic Extraodinaire, ringing changes on the I got mine, the hell with you chorus.

Here's Bela Lugosi returned from the dead. "Raaaadeeee00000h-ahhhktiff waste." 

"I've been a homeowner in the City of Santa Clara for..." you fill in the blank -- 40, 79, 2 -- years -- and the "first house on the right parks on the diagonal" or the "lady down the street has 9 cars." WTF? 

And here's Morticia Addams, pointing out that, in addition to attracting the criminally inclined, high density housing lowers property values. The horror, the horror. Can you imagine, having to live next to the kind of people who would live there? As an earlier speaker described it, squatter encampments on the roof. 

A Stepford child, clearly on an exchange program from Village of the Damned, recites: people = cars = pollution = poisoned environment....Somebody call Child Protective Services.

"It takes me five minutes to cross Kiely." OMG!!! Can you imagine the inconvenience!!! What planet has she been living on? 

"I make a trip to Post Office every day." And the problem is...? The people who live at 900 Kiely might go to the post office and then the trip might take 14 minutes instead of 9???? Believe me, they won't be going to the Post Office -- they have to work for a living, something that interferes with daily excursions to enjoy the ambience of the Post Office.